Thursday, April 14
In the end it was only two original members (drummer Jet Black suffering a bout of ill health) so it was up to JJ Burnel (bass, vocals) and Dave Greenfield (keys, backing vocals) to sell the sound of authenticity – the “new kid” Baz Warne (a member since 2000, frontman for the last decade) did a fine job of owning the stage and stamping out these songs. And the replacement drummer was incredible.
Normally, you’d sneer at “half a band”, but The Stranglers, in their first Wellington appearance, were most certainly the real deal. They bounded on stage to deliver the hits – all of ‘em, in a wide-ranging setlist – and yes, it was a nostalgia-deal for so many, but there was a vitality, an energy, an effort here that was commensurate and comparable to when the Buzzcocks stand up on stage and hit out all their great riffs and songs.
The punk-with-keyboards Stranglers have always been an intriguing prospect for me. I arrived to the band’s sound after their initial run – age’ll do that to you sometimes, we don’t choose when we’re born – and so it was the 80s hits like Skin Deep that hooked me, before going back to the drive of No More Heroes, their cover of Walk on By, Peaches, and all the hits…
To see them live, finally, was to bask in those great songs. So many. And at the core, still, that warm-liquid thrum of JJ Burnel, those spacey synth lines from Greenfield – incongruous and all the better for it.
The band – this version of the band, this very fine version of the band – wasted no time firing into Toiler on the Sea and Straighten Out, but it was the evening’s third number, (Get a) Grip (on Yourself) that really lit the crowd up. For many this was the last time they’d need their seat. And on through I’ve Been Wild and Curfew and Nice’n’Sleazy.
There was, maybe, a slight lull in a nearly two hour set when a couple of ballads arrived back-to-back. But that’s nearly nit-picking for the energy returned for Skin Deep and then a huge surge when Burnel hit down on that first note of Peaches.
And they still weren’t finished. Lost Control, Duchess, Tank to follow. And two sets of encores – first the covers bracket: Walk on By and The Kinks’ All Day And All of the Night, then the band’s pub-rock roots explored via Go Buddy Go and the superb wipe-the-stage-clean finale of No More Heroes.
Good lord they were great. Better than many anticipated, I’m sure. As good as anyone could have wanted. Yes, yes, you could stand your ground and be disappointed there was no Hugh Cornwall. Fair enough if you must. But what these guys did on the night was more than enough. It was a reminder of not only the vitality but the sheer number of terrific songs.
Ed Kuepper’s opening set was great, though I’m not sure a lot of the audience was interested. Fingers crossed he has better luck in the intimate venues this weekend for his solo shows.
Click here to see the full setlist